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Super Sacre's hat-trick emulates great Istabraq

By Richard Forristal

Nicky Henderson admitted Sprinter Sacre had needed to dig deeper into his reserves than ever before but his standing as National Hunt racing's phenomenon remains undiminished after victory in the Champion Chase at Punchestown.

Trained to peak for Cheltenham and sent back into action three weeks later at Aintree, Punchestown completed the hat-trick.

That feat was last achieved in 1999 by Istabraq, for many the greatest hurdler of all-time.

A thrilling season ending with a five-and-a-half-length defeat of his old adversary Sizing Europe.

So it was anything but a disaster, even if astonishing performances have littered Sprinter Sacre's 10-race unbeaten career over fences, and while Henderson might have preferred to preserve his star for next autumn, he spoke of a responsibility to show him to the Irish public.

Punchestown was grateful, from the organisers who promoted him to the hilt as racing's Justin Bieber, to the spectators who lined the route from the paddock all the way to the track entrance and roared when he returned to the winner's enclosure.

Sent off at 1-9 favourite, he was hardly a betting proposition but the expectant atmosphere and glorious reception for a British raider to the Irish party showed what a rare individual the photogenic gelding has become.

Thrashed by 19 lengths in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Sizing Europe had been successful on his last three visits to this track just outside of Naas and jockey Andrew Lynch was keen to capitalise on home advantage by setting off at a searching pace.

Soon the pair had burned off the other three starters and Sizing Europe was flat out, with Barry Geraghty once again sitting on his tail, seemingly ready to inflict another crushing defeat.

The response was not quite as instant, the jumping not quite as spectacular, but Sprinter Sacre started to edge clear under some persuasion at the penultimate fence and that was that.

"Job done," said a satisfied Henderson.

"Barry said he was at his best at Cheltenham, not as sharp at Aintree and not as sharp today.

"Even if you go into what you think is an easy race, the atmosphere and the crowds are still going to take it out of you.

"He was 101 per cent at Cheltenham and then to come back and come back takes a very good horse.

"To do all three (Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown) is very, very hard and he's had to work harder today than he has in the past.

"He can't quite jump out of this ground as easily as if it was good.

"He didn't do anything wrong, he was clean and clinical and fair play to Sizing Europe, who ran a hell of a race. I'd imagine he'll do the same next season."

Henderson went on: "I hope everyone has enjoyed seeing him, that's why we're here. We love coming. Ireland is a nation of horse lovers and you feel you owe it to everybody to bring him here.

"There's no point leaving him at home and the reception and appreciation he got was very, very special."

It was a pressurised atmosphere for Geraghty back in his homeland, and he said: "Sizing Europe put it up to us today and I had to work hard.

"Heavy ground probably doesn't suit my lad as well and from four out it wasn't as easy as it has been elsewhere, but we still put it to bed.

"I'd say there was more tension today than there was in Cheltenham. Just the crowd, the amount of people that were here for one horse, was massive and the parade ring was 20-deep and there were cheers on the way out.

"It was the 'Bieber' effect when we were in the winners enclosure all right, brilliant, more so than when we were in Cheltenham because I think the Irish really love to see him here."

Henry de Bromhead was, rightly, proud of Sizing Europe's brave performance at the age of 11, while stablemate Days Hotel completed to finish a very distant third.

The trainer commented: "He was superb.

"I said to Andrew to go and throw the kitchen sink at your man (Sprinter Sacre) and we got him off the bridle, but he's an incredible horse.

"At least we saw Barry having to push him out."

And what a treat that was for the Irish racing public.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph